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Power Supercomputing

Harvard Grid Computing Project Discovers 20k Organic Photovoltaic Molecules 125

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the by-your-powers-combined dept.
Lucas123 writes "In June, Harvard's Clean Energy Project plans to release to solar power developers a list of the top 20,000 organic compounds, any one of which could be used to make cheap, printable photovoltaic cells (PVCs). The CEP uses the computing resources of IBM's World Community Grid for the computational chemistry to find the best molecules for organic photovoltaics culled the list from about 7 million. About 6,000 computers are part of the project at any one time. If successful, the crowdsourcing-style project, which has been crunching data for the past two-plus years, could lead to PVCs that cost about as much as paint to cover a one-meter square wall." The big thing here is that they've discovered a lot of organic molecules that have the potential for 10% or better conversion; roughly equivalent to the current best PV material, and twice as efficient as other available organic PV materials.
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Harvard Grid Computing Project Discovers 20k Organic Photovoltaic Molecules

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  • Organic compounds (Score:4, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @08:06PM (#43467907)

    Yes, it could lead to an organic compound that could do that. It could also lead to an organic compound like the one recently installed into BMWs that, when exposed to fire, converts in an aerosol of the deadliest acid known to man. It was marketed as a "green" alternative to existing refridgerants... and it was approved by the EPA. Twenty thousand molecules sounds impressive -- but the odds of finding one that meets safety requirements and is still effective isn't good. Pharmaceutical companies test thousands of compounds every year... and very, very few of those find a medical application. It's the same story here.

    So yes, good first step. Good exploratory research. Don't get your hopes up.

    • by kromozone (817261) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @08:21PM (#43468027) Homepage
      Are you referring to 2,3,3,3-Tetrafluoropropene? That HF production scenario involved Daimler spraying HFO-1234yf over a burning hot engine block. The conditions were tuned to disqualify it. There's a bit more to that story than the surface. German industry vs. US industry pushing different alternatives and each trying to warp the science their way. PVs aren't going to be aerosolized and sprayed over 500C engine blocks while mixed with compressor fluid. Considerably easier to predict the behavior of an organic molecule in this case.
      • by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @08:28PM (#43468087)

        That HF production scenario involved Daimler spraying HFO-1234yf over a burning hot engine block.

        Okay, am I the only one that thinks that putting a chemical that, when exposed to high heat or fire, converts to one that can cause death if it comes in contact with a patch of skin smaller than the palm of your hand for a few seconds in a car's engine compartment is a really dumb idea? In the event of a front-end collision, you've got shit spraying and leaking everywhere, smoke, flames, people dead, dying, or injured... and you're suggesting that we should introduce into an already inherently dangerous situation for first responders to walk into... the risk of exposure to an airborn acid that can kill them if they come in contact with it and likely wouldn't know at the time they did?

        I'm sorry, but I'm with Congress on this: The woman that approved this was a flaming retard that, on no account, should be put in a position of authority over approving other compounds that could potentially save a company a few bucks at the expense of people's lives and health.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The woman that approved this was a flaming retard...

          I see what you did there

        • by Qzukk (229616)

          The woman that approved this was a flaming retard

          Flaming retard? Or one foot in the revolving door to whatever company invented the stuff?

        • Re:Organic compounds (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @10:17PM (#43468733)

          Seeing as the current refrigerant we use will have equally BAD results if tested in this manner, I wouldn't go nailing anyone to any crosses just yet.

          Don't believe me? Run out, buy a can of air duster, make sure you are in a room without much air circulation, turn the can upside down and light the resulting liquid spray on fire. Breath in REAL deep.*

          They both make into Hydrogen Fluoride when burned, just add water for your dreaded hydrofluoric acid. Hey, wait a minute, aren't your lung tissues made up of lots of water?

          To further make a point: The Dymler engineers mixed the HFO1234yf with compressor oil to increase its burning potential, then sprayed it over a large area on a hot engine block. In our experiment up top we ignited pure R-152a with nothing but a Bic lighter. Food for thought.

          *Don't do this.

        • by IMightB (533307)

          If you read the article, it appears that DuPont the chemical manufacturer is the one pushing it, because it's patents on R666 (or whatnot) are about to expire. it was approved via the SNAP process because based on Duponts documentation that it was supposedly safer for the environment. Mercedes own testing caught this flammability/poison issue and recalled every single car it made that used it. So far 2013 Cadillacs and Toyotas are still using it.

          I'm not sure how much of this "approval" you wish to pin

        • Re:Organic compounds (Score:5, Interesting)

          by gman003 (1693318) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @11:06PM (#43469013)

          Now, I'm not particularly good with metric, nor am I particularly experienced with engine repair (having done nothing more complex than replacing a water pump), but I would think 500C is a bit unusual for an engine to operate at. That's roughly 900F, well above the melting point of, say, lead, and getting close to that of aluminum or magnesium.

          According to some brief googling, the typical operating temperature for an engine is under 250F (120C), and gasoline auto-ignites at 280C (540F). So by the time your engine block has reached 500C, you should already have run a good ways away.

          Not to mention that, just by the name, tetraflouropropene sounds like a hard chemical to aerosolize, which is also a condition needed for it to release HF.

          So to recap:
          You first need to get your engine block to a temperature far beyond what it's designed to handle. Then you need to be in a crash violent enough to aerosolize a decent-sized organic compound, *and* that aerosol has to land on that engine. Finally, all the above has to happen in sufficient quantities to produce a dangerous amount of HF gas, which I will note is not quite as holyfuckballswereallgonnadie lethal as you seem to think (it is very dangerous, and rightly feared [corante.com], but you aren't going to die from a milliliter of it).

          Yeah, I'm fine with that. Can't be much more dangerous than gasoline, which can kill you under far less unusual circumstances.

          • Re:Organic compounds (Score:5, Informative)

            by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @11:16PM (#43469071) Homepage Journal


            You first need to get your engine block to a temperature far beyond what it's designed to handle.

            As I understood the point, they mixed this stuff with oil and then sprayed that mixture over the engine block. The hot engine ignited the oil and the burning oil reached the required temperature, presumably.

          • Re:Organic compounds (Score:5, Informative)

            by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday April 17, 2013 @12:13AM (#43469273)

            but I would think 500C is a bit unusual for an engine to operate at. That's roughly 900F, well above the melting point of, say, lead, and getting close to that of aluminum or magnesium.

            If you pop open the hood and look along the sides of the engines, you'll notice that even though your block is aluminum, your exhaust manifold is not. The operating temperature of that will vary from 500 to 1000F for a V6 or V8. It will be higher if it is a rotary engine, or turbo-charged. A turbo-charger works by taking the pressure of the exhaust and using that to drive a turbine that compresses air and feeds it into the intake -- as a result, the exhaust will be at a much higher pressure, typically 9-12 PSI, and that results in the excess heat not dissipating as quickly. 1000F is easily attainable in a turbo-charged engine, like those typically found on the higher-end vehicles this refrigerant was/is installed in.

            So by the time your engine block has reached 500C, you should already have run a good ways away.

            As indicated earlier, the engine block is not the only source of heat under the hood, nor is it the hottest location. Also, the ignition temperature of gasoline can be much lower than 280C -- it can be as low as 232C (495F) [hypertextbook.com].

            tetraflouropropene sounds like a hard chemical to aerosolize, which is also a condition needed for it to release HF.

            It is in a closed loop refrigeration system. The typical pressures for the "high" side of a typical system is 200-350 PSI. Needless to say, a leak in the system would result in already-heated liquid that is designed to vaporize at 15-25 PSI being released into the atmosphere (at zero PSI)... which makes converting it to a gaseous state a simple matter of poking a hole somewhere in either loop; Though it would be somewhat more disasterous on the "high" side of the compressor.

            So to recap:
            Your understanding of physics is based on incorrect assumptions, and is incomplete as well.

            Can't be much more dangerous than gasoline, which can kill you under far less unusual circumstances.

            Yes, if you drink it I suppose. But many people have been doused in gasoline and unless they are lit on fire, find that it simply stinks and itches. And in many cases, people have survived being burned by gasoline spills that have caught fire. The same can not be said of anyone exposed to hydrofluoric acid. The CDC [cdc.gov] has a few things to say about it... namely that it can be used as a chemical weapon and is exceptionally toxic and fatal even in small amounts. Gasoline on the other hand...

            • by sFurbo (1361249)

              It is in a closed loop refrigeration system. The typical pressures for the "high" side of a typical system is 200-350 PSI. Needless to say, a leak in the system would result in already-heated liquid that is designed to vaporize at 15-25 PSI being released into the atmosphere (at zero PSI)... which makes converting it to a gaseous state a simple matter of poking a hole somewhere in either loop;

              So it will evaporate, not aerosolize?

              Can't be much more dangerous than gasoline, which can kill you under far less unusual circumstances.

              Yes, if you drink it I suppose. But many people have been doused in gasoline and unless they are lit on fire, find that it simply stinks and itches.

              Let's keep the comparison apples to apples, and either note that being doused in a fluorohydrocarbon will probably do little more than to cool you down a bit; or that being doused in carbon monoxide is not exactly the start of a good night on the town, either.

              And in many cases, people have survived being burned by gasoline spills that have caught fire.

              We don't know how that compares to this compound, all we know is that, under the right circumstances, it can produce HF, while the same can be said of gasoline and CO.

              • So it will evaporate, not aerosolize?

                Are you really this stupid? Do you not understand how gasses and liquids behave when subjected to sudden pressure changes? I can boil water by simply throwing it in a vaccum...

                Let's keep the comparison apples to apples, and either note that being doused in a fluorohydrocarbon will probably do little more than to cool you down a bit; or that being doused in carbon monoxide is not exactly the start of a good night on the town, either.

                Dude, it won't "cool you down" a bit. It will, upon being exposed to fire, pass through your skin without leaving any evidence of its passage, and thereupon start to chemically burn your body from the inside out.

                We don't know how that compares to this compound, all we know is that, under the right circumstances, it can produce HF, while the same can be said of gasoline and CO.

                Exposure to carbon monoxide or gasoline is readily treatable. If I expose you to hydrofloric acid... shooting you in the fac

                • by sFurbo (1361249)

                  Let's keep the comparison apples to apples, and either note that being doused in a fluorohydrocarbon will probably do little more than to cool you down a bit; or that being doused in carbon monoxide is not exactly the start of a good night on the town, either.

                  Dude, it won't "cool you down" a bit. It will, upon being exposed to fire, pass through your skin without leaving any evidence of its passage, and thereupon start to chemically burn your body from the inside out.

                  [Bold emphasis mine] Which wasn't what I said. You compared HF production to unburning gasoline, which I pointed out was not the fairest of comparisons, and gave two fairer comparisons.

                  Exposure to carbon monoxide or gasoline is readily treatable.

                  To the degree that it doesn't kill you, yes. But then, so is exposure to small amounts of HF (at least skin exposure, I imagine no good way to treat lung exposure exists): Rinsing with water for 12 hours removes most of it*. Admittedly not something I yearn to try, but very few things involved in a car crash is. It is not cle

          • by Inda (580031)
            Brief Googling is not needed. The water temperature for any car is about 90-95C and a lot of them have sensors and display dials showing this. The metal doesn't get much hotter than 95C.

            Also, in modern cars, the fuel pump is disabled automatically after a crash.

            I'm not an expect in car drive-trains either. Panels, sure. Everything else, meh.
        • by sFurbo (1361249)
          That depends. How much HF will be produced over how long time in a typical crash? Is there any reason to assume that the concentration will ever be problematic?
        • That HF production scenario involved Daimler spraying HFO-1234yf over a burning hot engine block.

          Okay, am I the only one that thinks that putting a chemical that, when exposed to high heat or fire, converts to one that can cause death if it comes in contact with a patch of skin smaller than the palm of your hand for a few seconds in a car's engine compartment is a really dumb idea? In the event of a front-end collision, you've got shit spraying and leaking everywhere, smoke, flames, people dead, dying, or injured... and you're suggesting that we should introduce into an already inherently dangerous situation for first responders to walk into... the risk of exposure to an airborn acid that can kill them if they come in contact with it and likely wouldn't know at the time they did?

          I'm sorry, but I'm with Congress on this: The woman that approved this was a flaming retard that, on no account, should be put in a position of authority over approving other compounds that could potentially save a company a few bucks at the expense of people's lives and health.

          You sir are a fool. Consider that we tell the paramedics to just let the BMW owners die. Fucking pricks the lot of 'em anyway. Doing the world a favor and you call her a flaming retard? Get a check-up from the neck-up, mate.

        • by lxs (131946)

          You may want to look in your kitchen cupboard and notice that bottle of bleach. Am I the only one who thinks that storing a compound that so easily produces a deadly war gas that strips the lining of your lungs when mixed with the contents of the bottle of cleaner next to it is a really dumb idea? Don't even get me started on the fool who thought that allowing cables carrying the same deadly electrical current that is used for electrocuting criminals into every home was a good idea.

          Daily life is full of po

    • Not to be that guy, but I wanted to know more about the acid thing, couldn't find it. It's actually Mercedes, BMW refused to put it in their cars. It also creates an incredibly toxic gas along side the acid.

      More here:
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2307265/EPA-nominee-tough-questions-approved-new-car-air-conditioner-refrigerant-caused-ENGINE-FIRES-Mercedes-Benz-tests.html [dailymail.co.uk]

    • The problem with Pharma is they need to find a chemical that is effective against the pathogen/disease they are targeting and then make sure it is also efficiently absorbed by the body into the location that the disease/pathogen is so the dose they would need to give to a human are not toxic. The requirements for something like these PV compounds are far lower.

      • The requirements for something like these PV compounds are far lower.

        Yes, there's no disagreement there. I'm just saying, creating a list of potentially useful molecules is only the first step in the search. Just like it is with "Pharma". Nobody's claiming otherwise...

  • summary and thought polyvinyl chloride when reading "PVC"?

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @08:17PM (#43467985)
    Try half. High efficiency silicon cells are up to 20%.
    • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @08:30PM (#43468109)

      Try half. High efficiency silicon cells are up to 20%.

      The best are now sitting at 44% (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PVeff%28rev130307%29.jpg). That doesn't mean cheaper solar cells don't have lots of potential, but it does mean the editors here screwed up again. There are a few other errors in TFS as well, but this one really got me:

      could lead to PVCs that cost about as much as paint to cover a one-meter square wall."

      Huh? So does this mean a PV coating will will have the same cost per area as paint. Personal expertise tells me no. Does it mean a postage stamp of PV coating will coast as much as a square meter of paint? That's actually more realistic for the midterm future, but the language in TFS shows such a basic lack of understanding of both numbers and units that it's impossible to tell what the editor or submitter really meant to say.

      • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @09:03PM (#43468317)

        Those 44% cells use an optical concentrator, aka magnifying glass, and require a substantial cooling system (concentrating the suns energy 418x creates a lot of heat)
        They're also not commercially available, although neither are any cells using one of these 20,000 different molecules.

      • by Khyber (864651)

        " but it does mean the editors here screwed up again."

        No, it means the editors have pretty much lost any and all geek credential, plus have Alzheimer's, since we've had 20% silicon and high-efficiency cells for more than 5 years and we kept getting stories about them on slashdot.

        Seriously, me shit-drunk could do a better job than every editor here combined.

      • by hacker (14635)

        I think you probably meant to link to this copy of the file instead:

        http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ed/PVeff(rev130307).jpg [wikimedia.org]

      • by Shavano (2541114)

        Try half. High efficiency silicon cells are up to 20%.

        The best are now sitting at 44% (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PVeff%28rev130307%29.jpg). That doesn't mean cheaper solar cells don't have lots of potential, but it does mean the editors here screwed up again. There are a few other errors in TFS as well, but this one really got me:

        could lead to PVCs that cost about as much as paint to cover a one-meter square wall."

        Huh? So does this mean a PV coating will will have the same cost per area as paint. Personal expertise tells me no. Does it mean a postage stamp of PV coating will coast as much as a square meter of paint? That's actually more realistic for the midterm future, but the language in TFS shows such a basic lack of understanding of both numbers and units that it's impossible to tell what the editor or submitter really meant to say.

        I was referring to commercially available cells. Heterojunction cells can get as high as you say under some conditions. I think the 44% is only achieved with a 1000X light concentrating lens. That's not a fair comparison. The 20ish percent is fair because it's commercial flat cells that don't suffer from the HARD TO USE problems that come with the types that only work well under concentrators.

    • We *sell* panels with cells over 20%. You can buy them anywhere. *Panel* efficiency is lower, typically 16 to 16.5%. That's because of the space between the cells, reflection off the glass, wiring losses, etc.

      Panels are widely selling for about 70 cents a watt. Racking, inverter and wiring adds about the same amount. So even if we reduce the price of the panel by half, that will have an increasingly small effect on the installed cost. However, wiring and racking varies with the area of the system, so any de

  • could lead to PVCs that cost about as much as paint to cover a one-meter square wall

    Another wasted effort. Who has a wall that is only one meter square? And if it costs as much as paint and covers one square meter, wouldn't it also cost as much as paint to cover a more useful size structure?

    • Perhaps it costs more than paint if you cover a smaller area as there may be fixed costs for things like power connections.

  • Excuse me (Score:5, Funny)

    by viperidaenz (2515578) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @08:40PM (#43468195)

    While I go and file 20,000 patents...

  • Please compare potentials to potentials, actuals to actuals. Comparing 10% potential of something with 10% actual of something that has some 40% or so potential is just plain wrong.
  • If they can do it in Napalm Orange [namenerds.com] then I'm in.
  • Don't PV panels require a transparent conductor as a top layer? Something that lets the light through and conducts away the electricity?

    Once the side of your house is painted with this stuff, how would you gather the energy?

    Cheap photovoltaic molecules is part of the problem. We still need a cheap transparent conductor to gather the generated energy.

  • It's funny when you suggest that it could be as cheap as paint. Peoples responses are like "but how much cost in getting the power out??!". You could tell these jerks you could get free power from an aerosol can & sunshine & they'd still complain. Oh, wait...

The more cordial the buyer's secretary, the greater the odds that the competition already has the order.

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